San Francisco's troubled Tenderloin gets a lot of attention for its problems, but one of the neighborhood's longtime resources just got a big upgrade.
Founded in 1972, the Curry Senior Center has now reopened in a brand new location. It's great news for the neighborhood's large senior population, but operating in the Tenderloin is not without its challenges.
But the man who made it happen isn't letting broken windows stand in the way.
"People think of the Tenderloin, and they think of what they see on the street. They're going to Macy's, or they're going down to the theater and they think 'Holy moly, what is this place,'" said Dave Knego, head of the Curry Senior Center. "But, there's 14,000 older adults who live in the neighborhood."
Just as the Tenderloin has the highest concentration of children, it also has the highest concentration of seniors, and on this day, the first group of them was welcomed into their new space in this neighborhood.
It's the very first event at the Curry Senior Center, and Executive Director Dave Knego still has a hard time believing it.
"The space I'm standing in was going to be a restaurant or an office. I said it's too small, thank you very much," Knego said of his acquisition of the space. "They called back the next day, 'Actually, there's plenty of restaurants in this neighborhood. How about you take the whole place.' I almost fell over. I almost started crying. I couldn't believe it. And here we are two and a half years later."
"I like the high ceilings," said visitor Newton Butler. "The kind of industrial look I like. It goes with San Francisco."
The new center, with its soaring, floor to ceiling windows, is also a big commitment to a neighborhood where creating a bright, beautiful space can be a challenge.
"Staff came by and said, 'Dave, did you fix that broken window,'" Knego recalled. "I said, yeah, I did. They said, 'No, you better go check it out. Three windows were broken.' I said oh my. We really have an issue here."
Just ahead of opening day, a group of volunteers came out, to make sure the center would not be draped in graffiti-tagged plywood. They covered that with work from one of the senior center art groups.
"We're hoping, as a statement to the neighborhood," Knego explained. "We're an older adult center. You respect your seniors. Respect us."
The next step will be more expensive.
"Bulletproof glass," he said of his plan. "So, that's what we're going to replace it with. It's a quarter inch bulletproof glass, and we have to do special structural changes to the building to put that glass on. Which is 10 times more than what it would normally cost."
The center, Knego said, is committed to this corner, this community, and those who come here for it.
"A way of getting together with members of my community," CJ said. "It's like support, just having a good time, hanging out with some friends."
"Just knowing the people," Butler added. "Kind of like in 'Cheers,' where everybody knows your name. That has value."
"You can run and hide," Knego said of the neighborhood's challenges. "Or you can accept the challenge. We are accepting the challenge. Our staff are dedicated. Our older adults are dedicated. I remember aikido in high school. You use everybody else's energy and re-channel it for good. So that's generally what we're doing here."
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